This post started out life as an Instagram caption, however as it became longer and more personal I figured that my blog would be better suited as a home for what I have to say. This is the most honest and open I think I have ever been about my life outside of my online presence, but the issues here are important and relevant to current things going on in the world.
For those of you who are unaware I started working as a Waterstones bookseller in November of last year. I love my job, however yesterday I had an interaction with a customer which made me unbearably angry and frustrated and I felt like I needed to share it.
A lady came into our store with her daughter (roughly 13-14 years old) and asked my colleague where our teen section was – he directed her to it and left them to browse. A few minutes later they returned to the till with a couple of books they wanted to buy. We’re currently in the middle of handselling The Hate U Give to customers as it just won our Children’s Book Prize, so I briefly explained the plot and why it’s such an important book. The lady then proceeded to say to me ‘why do all of these teen books sound so depressing – it’s no wonder they all have mental health problems’. I was completely taken aback by this comment and just about managed to stay composed in my response to her. I’ve had a full 24 hours to mull this over and I wanted to write this post as a response to both comments like this one, and the general attitudes towards readers of the teen and YA genres.
I am now 23 years old and although I’m not really part of the target age range of YA books, they still make up the vast majority of everything I read. Like most of us who regularly read YA books, I think there is depth and meaning to them which is not found in most adult fiction. YA authors are amazing at taking the issues which young people face and writing about them in a way which is both heartfelt, insightful and overwhelmingly helpful for the reader. The number of new YA releases which either tackle aspects of mental health, gender politics or issues facing marginalised members of society have grown exponentially within a short space of time. However, for those who are intimidated by this openness or simply do not understand the source of these issues there is a need to place blame on what teenagers are reading, watching or listening to. The stigma and lack of understanding which still surrounds the teenage experience are one of the true reasons why books like these are vitally important for young people today, and the way in which they deal with this is why the YA genre is so beloved by so many of us who are now adults.
Last year I read Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia right in the middle of one of the toughest periods of my life so far. As I was reading I began to notice similarities between my own mental state and that of the protagonist. Eliza is introverted, uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations, and at points, has long stretches of time where she chooses not to leave the house. Through reading this book I realised that the feelings I had been experiencing over the course of several years were the result of severe and crippling anxiety, and I was able to begin to take steps to do something about it.
So, why does YA matter? YA matters because it gives a voice and support system to those who otherwise would have none. YA matters because it changes lives and in some cases even saves them. It did for me.